Dammit, it happened to me again. I was attending a local production of Grand Hotel, a musical I really like. I grant you it’s not an easy show to stage, and it requires some real acting AND singing chops to pull it off right. I’ve seen it twice before, but it was a part of my subscription series at this theatre, so I went. Two other musicals in this season so far were Hairspray and Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
I walked out of all three at intermission
Pul-leez, don’t tell me out of courtesy to the performers I should have stayed for the whole thing. Why? Hell, more than 30 years ago, one of my employees was appearing in a misbegotten production of Oliver. I liked Lance, but the man could not sing nor dance nor act. My BFF and I fled at intermission. (We kind of knew we were in trouble when the program listed every piece of music in the show, including the scene change music. Huh? What?) When I saw him Monday morning, he completely understood.
As I’ve noted before, I spent seven years on the Dark Side as a theatre critic. As such, I could not leave at intermission no matter what (though there were times when I wished I had).
During that time, Miss Saigon came to town. I had seen it once already in New York and left the Broadway theatre screaming internally because I hated it so much (fake emotions, overamplified music, terrible retelling of the Madame Butterfly story). When I was called upon to review it, I figured (wrongly) I must have misjudged it and I’d go in with a completely open mind. (I have since learned if I think something is terrible on the first outing, it’s never going to get better on subsequent ones, the four times I agonized through Cats.) The night I saw Miss Saigon, seated next to me was the artistic management of the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. Yes, that included a future internationally-acclaimed director (for Hunchback) and a future Tony-winning director (for Raisin in the Sun). At intermission, they ALL walked out. I was left by myself in the entire row. I wish I could have joined them. By the time I found my car in the parking lot after the show, I was screaming (out loud) mad. I hadn’t misjudged Miss Saigon; I had suffered through it twice.
Walking out of a really bad production or an awful show is a major luxury for me these days. I don’t savor walking out, but I don’t deny myself that possibility if my ears are ringing from off-key performers screeching in my ear on the last note of a major song (while being overamplified by head microphones). I didn’t deny myself the pleasure of leaving a supposedly hit Broadway comedy if I didn’t laugh once in Act I. I didn’t deny myself the relief coming from leaving a revival of an antiquated British sex comedy, which just seemed plain stupid. I certainly didn’t deny myself the gratification of walking out at intermission of a popular (well, with teenaged girls) musical I found to be shrill and mediocre in its best moments (though I regrettably did sit through the whole thing a second time). I definitely didn’t deny myself giving into the anger I felt watching a star-studded revival of a brilliant drama done badly by every actor in the all-male cast. (Okay, in order: that production of Grand Hotel; Tale of the Allergist’s Wife; Boeing, Boeing; Wicked; and the ill-fated That Championship Season—fortunately, that was a $1.50 ticket from Play-by-Play).
As I noted in my last blog, going to the theatre is a kind of therapy for me. For two or more hours, I am transported out of my own woes (being widowed; now living with Tourette after being poisoned by a medicine I was taking) and into another world. If I’m not enjoying myself (be it a drama, a comedy, a musical, or a piece of performance art), then that night (or afternoon) of theatre has failed me. Why should I suffer through another act?
Producers have gotten wise to people like me; they eliminate the intermission so we can’t leave. How do I know this? Two ways. First, about 10 years ago I got involved in the production of my first Broadway show as an investor. It was a wonderful script called Impressionism and was going to be a great show—or so I thought. Went to the second preview, and it was terrific. Then some negative buzz started appearing online, and unfortunately, the director listened to it. Cut the show to shreds and eliminated the intermission because some people were walking out. The result? On opening night, I didn’t recognize the play at all. It was awful. Terrible. Really bad. It closed quickly and I lost my investment.
Fast forward to a couple of years ago in Los Angeles. In Southern California, no matter how bad a show is, the audience gives it a standing ovation (and you know how I feel about those). Except once. The show was Amélie, and I knew there was trouble ahead when I saw makeshift signs posted in the theatre about there being no intermission (though one was advertised in the program). At the end of this unholy mess, there was a smattering of polite applause, no standing O, and people ran to escape the Ahmanson. I guess too many people had walked at intermission when it first played in San Francisco (where audiences are much less polite).
I’m sure at this point someone might be tempted to snark at me about how if I was a decent person, I would stay out of courtesy to the actors and the effort they’ve put forth. Sure, if I was a decent person. I never said I was (hence how easy to lapse into the critic’s role as well as rightly earning my sobriquet of ATB’s Grumpy Olde Guy®).
Recently, I went to see a local production of a play near and dear to my heart, The Diary of Anne Frank. I was in a production many years ago (typecast as the grumpy olde dentist, of course), and I had taught the play to a class of teenagers when I was in college. However, this production was so badly directed, designed, and acted I couldn’t stay. I was cringing in my seat during the entirety of Act I and I did not want to subject myself to even more torture in the second act. Can you blame me? Wait, maybe some of you can.
I’ve forced myself to sit through badly done Shakespeare (King Lear with Sam Watterson a few years back at the Public) but have walked out of the Scottish Play with a well-known actor (who shall remain nameless because I think he now omits it from his resume). I’ve bitten the bullet and sat through such gems as Censored Scenes From King Kong (which Carrie Fisher never acknowledged she did on Broadway) and America Kicks Up Its Heels by William (Falsettos) Finn starring Patti LuPone. (Years later, my BFF was at a party with her and brought up us having seen her in it at Playwrights Horizon. She categorically denied it. She swore up and down she didn’t do it. She did. We saw her do it.) I even forced myself to sit through all of Love Never Dies, one of the 10 worst musicals ever written (in my opinion) because people on ATB swore Act II was better than Act I. It wasn’t. I suffered in agony through that whole goddamn piece of crap. I couldn’t even laud the actors because they were pretty terrible in it as well—though no one could make such substandard material work. But really, did the Phantom have to do a bad Lon Chaney Jr. impression at the top of the show?
Now it’s your turn. Have you ever walked at intermission? Have you ever been tempted to not return for Act II (only to discover Act II was even worse)? If so, what was the show?
And for those of you unfortunate to have to stay for the entirety of a really bad production because you knew someone in the cast, might I offer you some surefire lines to say after the show? Here are my favorites:
· “Well, that was interesting.”
· “You should have been out front.” (Especially good if the actor was really bad.)
· “I don’t remember seeing anything quite like tonight.”
· “I know professional actors who couldn’t do the role like you did.”
· “You certainly had a lot of people talking.”
And if you’ve ever been the recipient of any of these remarks as an actor, thank your lucky stars you have friends not willing to tell you the whole stinking truth (ooh, flash to Bosom Buddies from Mame).
(Grumpy Olde Guy® a/k/a Michael Kape has lived too long, some say—him included. He says life’s too short to put up with bad theatre. So, he doesn’t! If you all weren’t so much nicer than him, you wouldn’t either.)